Patience & Persistence: Making Your First Feature Film
A story about people who enjoy pain and suffering - but really, a story about managing mental health and positive energy during a two-year marathon
I think all filmmakers are masochists deep inside. If you want to “make it” as a filmmaker, you have to enjoy pain, or at least be mildly resistant to it, to a certain degree. You need to have a certain mindset to be able to deal with constant setbacks, negotiations that drag on for months, and the highs that feel like a drug high - when you get some good news, it feels so good it’s unreal and unnatural. I can see how being a filmmaker can be addictive to some, you’re always chasing that next “hit” - and it’s always some form of external approval. Much of what you’re trying to accomplish is often wildly out of your control.
We’re attempting something that people tell us is too hard even to attempt, a dream so unrealistic it’s impossible. Taking all of that into consideration, retaining some semblance of balance is hard, and I can see how filmmakers may sometimes go off the deep end.
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I get impatient, antsy, frustrated, disappointed, upset. But I try not to let it influence my long-term mindset. I try not to take it out on others. As a producer on my own first feature film, I feel very strongly that it’s my responsibility to set the tone and vibe of how I want to collaborate and also, how I want others to treat me.
To account for the negative energy, I need to take really good care of myself. It’s one of the reasons I don’t live in Los Angeles, and don’t want to - there’s way too much of that collective anxious energy floating around, and as a highly sensitive person, I’d absorb way too much of it.
First, I need to acknowledge the feelings and accept them. Step 2 is figuring out what I need to channel those energies. For me, that’s relaxing and unplugging. I often disable email on my phone for periods of time. I don’t respond to messages before or after certain hours. I have started meditating from time to time and try not to beat myself up if I don’t turn it into a “ daily habit”. I journal - just a free-flowing writing exercise, noting my feelings (which helps with step 1, acknowledging and accepting my feelings). It’s going for walks and going out for lunch or dinner, and having engaging conversations with my husband, family or friends. It’s visiting museums and immersing myself with other people’s art - letting myself be inspired. It’s snuggling with my cat when it’s cold outside. It’s listening to music with my full attention while I should really be sleeping. Being close to bodies of water (whether it’s rivers, lakes or sea) I’ve found really helps me too - which shouldn’t be a surprise given I live on a sailboat for a few years now. Nothing beats watching the sunset from the beach or from a boat.
Additionally, I’ve found that fostering my creativity somehow while I’m working on the business end of my feature has been really important. Business meetings and paperwork don’t stimulate me creatively - yet I found I had too much anxious energy to write and couldn’t focus. For me, the perfect outlet was shooting an impromptu short film with a friend. It took me a while to figure that out, though. Writing this newsletter is actually helping, too.
Another important reason why I’m able to cope and stay sane, is that I am a positive realist. I’m not an optimist, necessarily, but I am extremely positive while still acknowledging certain realities (e.g. systemic exclusion), and I try to work within the boundaries of those realities. You could also call me a possibilist, coined by Swedish physician, academic and statistician Hans Rosling. This quote really resonates with me:
“People often call me an optimist, because I show them the enormous progress they didn't know about. That makes me angry. I'm not an optimist. That makes me sound naive. I'm a very serious “possibilist”. That’s something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview. As a possibilist, I see all this progress, and it fills me with conviction and hope that further progress is possible. This is not optimistic. It is having a clear and reasonable idea about how things are. It is having a worldview that is constructive and useful.”
― Hans Rosling, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
I have a very positive outlook on the future (even though I have a reputation with my family for being able to bring up the word apocalypse in any conversation). I believe in the power and good of humanity. And that also translates into my efforts in making this movie: the more people keep telling me it’s not possible, the more I’m like, that’s not true and believing that just makes you quit, which benefits others. So I refuse to believe it.
Anyway, before I get off track too much. I think that most importantly, I keep checking in with how I’m feeling and doing the work to make sure my energies are balanced. Although I have a very supportive team, as the director and a main producer during this phase of the film, I feel an incredible responsibility to keep going - it’s very much like running a two-year long marathon, and you have to have the stamina to keep going. You’re going to be sad and dejected like everyone else with every rejection, but you’re also going to have to be the one who motivates the rest to keep going. If I sink, this entire ship sinks with me.
And if anything, I strongly believe that me giving up would be the only reason we fail - so I know that if I keep going, we’ll succeed. I just need to make sure it stays a healthy, sane and fun experience for myself and everyone I work with in the meantime.
Things I enjoyed this week
TV: Reservation Dogs (Hulu)
Movie: Saint Maud (dir. Rose Glass)
Game: No Man’s Sky
Join the Graveyard Shift
Grim Reeper Diaries is written by Manon de Reeper.
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